Linda Catlin Smith – Ballad
Another Timbre at176 (anothertimbre.com)
Barbara Monk Feldman – Verses
GBSR Duo with Mira Benjamin
Another Timbre at177 (anothertimbre.com)
New discs from two Canadian composers – Linda Catlin Smith and Barbara Monk Feldman – and both are standouts. They are the latest releases in the invaluable Canadian Composers Series from Another Timbre. As we’ve come to expect from this innovative British label, the sound is stellar and the performances, by some of Britain’s top contemporary music specialists, are consistently terrific. As well, there are some significant recording premieres here.
Like many composers on Another Timbre’s roster, Smith and Monk Feldman engage directly with 20th-century game-changers John Cage and Morton Feldman, so tempos are slow, dynamics are subdued and textures are spare. But Smith and Monk Feldman have distinctively personal voices. Smith, a dynamic presence on the Toronto new music scene, has developed an ardent international following, while Monk Feldman remains the only Canadian woman composer to have had an opera, Pyramus and Thisbe, staged in the Canadian Opera Company’s main hall (inexcusably rare for a Canadian, even rarer – so even more inexcusable – for a woman).
It was a recording of Smith’s music, Drifter, which launched the Canadian Composers Series in 2017. Ballad is now her fourth album for Another Timbre. She wrote the two works here for her brother, cellist Andrew Smith. In Through The Low Hills, from 1994, cellist Anton Lukoszevieze and pianist Kerry Yong, both members of the much-fêted British ensemble, Apartment House, stylishly trace the twists and turns of Smith’s intriguing harmonic transformations.
The title work, Ballad, is a lyrical, open-hearted, gorgeous, and, at 46 minutes, expansive work. Lukoszevieze and Yong listen to each other so intently that every phrase communicates eloquently.
Monk Feldman’s realm extends from the enchanted vistas of Duo for Piano and Percussion and the eerie mists of Verses for Vibraphone to the uplifting chorale-like contours of Clear Edge for solo piano.
The I And Thou, from 1988, is dedicated to Monk Feldman’s teacher and husband, Morton Feldman, who had died the previous year. Here she weaves a fabric of luminous stillness. Yet beneath the shimmering surface an uneasy presence stirs, unarticulated but palpable, especially with pianist Siwan Rhys’ sensitivity to the mood of longing that suffuses this moving work.
Monk Feldman has written that The Northern Shore, a trio for percussion, piano, and violin, takes inspiration from the landscape of the Gaspé region of Quebec. Reflecting such an immense expanse, this work is the longest here. And it covers a vast expressive territory, from precisely shaped and positioned tones to an unexpectedly effulgent passage of delicate piano chords marked “freely”. The responsiveness of percussionist George Barton and pianist Rhys is beautifully matched by the imaginative palette of colours from Canadian violinist Mira Benjamin (a member of Apartment House).